During my interview for this fellowship, I mentioned to the committee that I would go to Carnival. It is amazing how last February I was sitting down for that interview. Now, I have been to Carnival.
I was introduced to Armando. We met up for an interview in a Burger King on Avenida Paulista, one of the main avenues for shopping in São Paulo. He can read English very well, but I neither speak nor read Portuguese. I wrote question after question in my notebook. Armando read each question and typed his response into Google translate. Back and forth, we wobbled through the conversation. He told me, “I can’t believe a man from another world has come to help me settle my past.” Armando stared out the window thinking about the questions. His father was from Bahia, a state in north Brazil, and he worked on a cocoa farm. When his parents got divorced, Armando was the only one of his brothers who decided to go with his father instead of his mother. Armando admired how intelligent and creative his father was. However, his father struggled with alcohol and would beat his wife, Armando's mother. Armando thinks his father learned this from his grandfather. I asked Armando if he is different and if so, why? He said, “I have a daughter… I want to raise her without violence.” So, he does not hit women.
Sometimes we accept domestic violence and sometimes we do not; it depends how we think about the situation. I spoke to my friend about this interview, and she said she finds it frustrating that men will only listen and care for women when they think about them as “daughters”, “mothers”, “wives”, etc., as in, in relation to another man. This is true. People, both men and women, in these interviews have said that boys need to learn to respect women for the same reason my friend said. An interview I posted in New Zealand mentioned this. In my post from Australia, I even suggested the gender gap is bad because it could hurt my daughter one day. This narrative that we should care about victims because people care about them is far too narrow. We should care about victims of violence because they are human beings, and we should condemn oppressors because they hurt human beings. Therefore, we must never accept domestic violence.
We must accept right and reject wrong. However, we cannot expect our beliefs to be perfect. Beliefs must not be forced upon children. I met Pamela at a café in north São Paulo, and she spoke about this in her interview. She quoted Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet: On Children, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, / For they have their own thoughts… You are bows from which your children / as living arrows are sent forth.” I first heard this quote in an interview in Thailand, and it resonates again. It reminds me how a child is her own person; she must think for herself. Pamela said, “You must love your children and allow them to be; because to love is to free. If you love something, you want that thing to be free because freedom is everything.” Pamela lives by this. Her son quit his job to move to the Amazon in north Brazil and fight companies destroying the environment while mining for raw materials. She admits she is scared, but she knows that if she loves him then she needs to let him lead his own life. Moreover, she is happy knowing he loves what he does.
The most common advice I have received for being a good dad is to love your kids. Pamela believes that to love something is to free it. I am grateful my mom has freed me to travel. She certainly has some fears as I arrive each new place. However, when we talk, she hears how much I have learned and how many good friends I have made. I enjoyed Brazil for more than Carnival; thinking through the interviews also opened my mind to new ideas.
As a side note, today is my birthday. Last year, I was selected for this fellowship. This turned into the best year of my life so far. The fellowship has offered me new relationships, new foods, new cultures, new ways of thinking, and much more. Most of all, it has offered me the freedom to ask myself: what do I want out of life? I have decided I want to wake up late on Sundays and have breakfast with my family. I know family time makes me happy so I look forward a life filled with it.
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